- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2001

Barely two weeks in office, Mr. Bush dispatched Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to Germany to attend the Munich Conference on Security Policy. It was the first overseas mission of any member of the Bush cabinet. Mr. Rumsfeld, who served as U.S. ambassador to NATO under President Nixon and later as secretary of defense in the Ford administration, left no doubt about this administration's national-security priorities.

Appearing before a skeptical group of European foreign-policy and defense ministers, Mr. Rumsfeld asserted, "No U.S. president can responsibly say that his defense policy is calculated and designed to leave American people undefended against threats that are known to exist." Indeed, as Mr. Rumsfeld reminded his audience, in this more integrated, post-Cold War world, "[W]eapons and technologies once available only to a few nations are proliferating and becoming pervasive," including among "non-state entities."

"Let there be no doubt," Mr. Rumsfeld told America's allies, "A system of defense need not be perfect," he insisted, "but the American people must not be left completely defenseless." In fact, deploying defenses against missile attacks was less of "a technical question," he declared, than it was "a matter of the president's constitutional responsibility." Indeed, Mr. Rumsfeld rightly argued that missile defense was "a moral issue."

While Mr. Rumsfeld emphatically assured America's European allies that the United States would consult them in what he told them should be "a new opportunity for a collective approach to enhancing security for us all," he was equally emphatic in telling them that they, like the Russians and Chinese, would have no veto power over America's decision. Insisting that the issue should by no means be divisive among NATO allies, Mr. Rumsfeld asserted, "The U.S. has every interest in seeing that our friends and allies, as well as deployed forces, are defended from attack and are not vulnerable to threat or blackmail."

Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman and Republican Sen. John McCain, both of whom attended the conference, reinforced Mr. Rumsfeld's views, telling the European allies that missile defense enjoyed strong bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress. So forceful was Mr. Rumsfeld's performance that Europeans seemed resigned to the missile-defense program's inevitability. Lord Robertson, who serves as NATO's secretary-general, told the Dallas Morning News that "there's a shift in opinion" among Europeans "toward accepting that the U.S. is going [forward]." Since Mr. Bush entered office, Lord Robertson acknowledged, there has been "a growing feeling that it is a question of how and when, rather than whether."

Particularly noteworthy was the assessment of Richard Perle, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy during the Reagan administration, who was indispensable in convincing Europeans in 1983 to accept deployment of U.S. land-based cruise missiles and Pershing 2 ballistic missiles. Mr. Perle told the Dallas Morning News that he was gratified by "the feeble European resistance" to Mr. Rumsfeld's proclamation. Detecting "some qualms and apprehensions," Mr. Perle said that there was "no sense" that the Europeans were "rushing the barricades to stop it." Indeed, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer meekly acknowledged that whether to build a missile-defense system "above all is a national decision for the United States."

Given the otherwise critical European response to the U.S. missile-defense proposal, the security conference in Munich demonstrated what American leadership can do.

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